Recycling Plant Workers Share Tips On What And How To Recycle

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May. 30 2019, Updated 11:29 a.m. ET

Despite our best intentions, a lot of the paper, plastic, and metal we recycle ends up in the dump. There are many reasons why it gets there, but it mostly boils down to misconceptions about the recycling process. So how can we avoid these errors? Just listen to the people who sort and shred our recyclables.

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The recycling plant workers of the world recently took to Reddit to explain how to recycle better. They went over the common mistakes that people make, and shared surprising info on what is and isn't recyclable. Check out some of their best advice below:

Keep your trash out

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"Don’t throw your trash in the recycling! By the time it gets to us it’s really vile and we have to dig through it and dispose of it. The worst smell I’ve ever experienced was a bunch of oysters that someone threw into the recycling that sat in the summer heat for a few days before sitting in our warehouse over the long weekend.

Also, don’t put cigarette butts in bottles/spit in bottles."

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Rinse and repeat

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"My mom worked at a recycling center when I was in middle school. On summer vacation I was lucky enough to ‘volunteer’ with her. Not a big facility so no big deal. PLEASE, rinse out your milk jugs. I have a kid now and would rather smell any of his dirty diapers as oppose[d] to opening up an unrinsed milk jug that's been out in 90 degree, summer heat."

Seriously, wash that stuff out

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"Contaminated recycling is probably one of the biggest issues in the industry right now. Don't toss half full soda cans and bottles into your recyclable bin, don't try to recycle paper with food waste on it. That can contaminate the entire bin and make it useless."

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Beware of bags

"Please do NOT put plastic bags you get from the grocery stores in recycling, it jams up the motors on our machines."

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Ceramics ≠ glass

"Too late to the party - but DO NOT PUT CERAMICS IN WITH RECYCLED GLASS.

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Ceramics melt at a higher temperature, they contaminate the glass furnaces and cause inclusions in new glass which causes it to break easily. Most of this can be sorted out by quality systems, but some inevitably gets through and causes more problems downstream.

Even that which gets sorted often makes it's way back into the furnace... the small pieces get slightly smaller each time they go through, but if enough ceramics contaminate a furnace it's a real headache."

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Save your batteries

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"Electronics recycler here. Please don't put your batteries in the trash! The different metals inside each battery, is really bad for the environment as the batteries corrode. Anything that can be plugged in, can be salvaged by a good electronics recycling company. We normally partner with your municipalities to give each citizen the ability to properly recycle their electronic devices. We can recover the metals inside of cathode ray tube TVs, circuit boards, anything with mercury in it, bulbs, microwaves, and any kind of battery there is. (Just to name a few.)"

Don’t assume you can recycle e-waste or metal

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"Not a present worker, but a past worker who quit for college. But I can say a few things.

1.) Keep electronics (Often known as E-waste, or as EUUU in the EU, thank you u/the_social_paradox for adding this bit of info) OUT of the single-stream recycling bins. Unless it outright says so, most recycling plants recycle paper, plastic, cardboard, aluminum, and occasionally glass. Don't send us your computers and phones unless it's outright specified for E-waste. (This was MUCH too common. In fact, when I worked, I was the one person who had to sort out all of the metal material, and electronics such as computer components and phones were common. At least I managed to snag a few intact phones.)

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2.) In general, keep any metal that isn't aluminum out of the bins. (Acceptable items include soda and beer cans) Some recycling plants allow other metals, but check in with them."

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Also, don't shred all your paper

"3.) Unless it's a paper with critical info such as your past insurance or an electric bill, don't shred your paper. This not only makes it easier to handle, but a quick look up also revealed that it also harms the quality of the paper as it's recycled."

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Educate yourself

"A lot of comments on here about what to recycle vs not recycle will vary based on location, though there are some general practices that are widely accepted in the recycling sorting community that I hopefully address below. Look to see if your local recycling facility hold tours and sign up! Also, look on their website or call them to better understand what your local recycling center accepts. The best thing you can do is to only put recyclable items in your recycling rather than wish-cycling. Some places have even made apps to help you understand what is recyclable. I am addressing this question from a single-stream recycling which relies on human sorters, mechanical separation, and optical sorting to sort the recycling. This method is used in large metro areas as it enhances the participation in recycling rather than asking citizens to sort the recycling themselves."

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